Review of ‘Cock’: “A mirror of imperfection”

Some need labels, others just need escape from them. Gay, straight, bi or whatever. Do we really need those words to describe how we feel? Or is it avoiding them just a way to flee reality? Last week, Mike Barlett’s Cock had its West End opening at the Ambassadors Theatre, starring Taron Egerton and Jonathan Bailey. Guillermo Názara reviews this new production directed by Marianne Elliott and also starring Phil Daniels and Jade Anouka, which questions a thing or two about the foundation of our own personalities.

Some of us are attracted to men. Some other are attracted to women (or so they say…). Some may even like both. It’s all in our genetic makeup – that’s at least what we’ve mostly heard. However, who can prove that’s true? Well, many would happen to disagree with even questioning such a fact, but on the other hand, isn’t the theatre a stream of challenges to our minds and conventions? Disturbing or stimulating, there’s no doubt that some of themes explored in Cock (no longer need to embelish the title) leave no one indifferent. Love and betrayal (to others and oneself), the desperate need of breaking free and the masks and armours with protect ourselves with towards society and even from our closest ones. They’re basically all the same – a reflection of the human spirit.

Penned by Mike Barlett (and first performed back in 2009 at the Royal Court Theatre) the play made its West End debut last week, with a staggering cast led by internationally renowned British stars Taron Egerton (BAFTA nomination for Rocketman, Kingsman) and Jonathan Bailey (Company, Bridgerton). Surely here the producers have done their job right – the choice couldn’t have worked more effortlessly onstage. The chemistry between Egerton and Bailey, plunging into a thrilling level of intimacy and rapport, easily brings the feeling that you are often eavesdropping a private couple converstaion, instead of actually watching a show.

Of course, the words they speak help, and Barlett clearly has come out with several clever scenes which accurately depict the motivations and, more specially, frustrations and disappointments of everyday life – particularly when it comes to those whom we lay our happiness on. Its brilliant pace and honest ironic humour are by all means the biggest strenghts of this work, grasping your attention (and laughter filter) from the first minute and never letting go until the very end. The level of truth lying behind the two main characters’ intentions, often opening up to several layers of complexity, is compelling and touching, and it’s enhanced by both Egerton’s satirical (though extremely realistic) acting and, above all, Bailey’s incredibly passionate energetic forthright interpretation.

Opposite them, Jade Anouka steps into the shoes of W, the girl whom Bailey starts to feel attracted to after his long-term relationship with Egerton. Although posing an interest conflict within the story, this may also be the play’s biggest flaw, precisely for the character’s apparently lack of any in comparison to their counterparts. Having said that, Anouka’s performance still brings naturality to the persona and the tension among the three (and soon-to-be four) is exceptionally tangible. Finally, Phil Daniels jumps into the narrative’s third act, as the caring father willing to help his son (Egerton) no matter what – leading to the plot’s explosive distressing (although in some way satisfactory) conclusion.

Directed this time by Marianne Elliott, the production uses a sterile platinum reflective set to transport us, more than to any locations, to the places and states of mind (specifically Bailey’s) their leads walk through. Though making some of the entrances occasionally surprising, it’s still missing some wowing factor regarding its efectiveness. However, it does bring out the vibe of incarceration, which is probably what the characters’ quest (and as we’ll progressively find out, not only Bailey’s) is all about. On the whole, although not a fave of mine, the understanding of the text is obviously correct and well chanelled through the design.

Like it or not, it would just be fair to say that Cock is one of the biggest offers of this season and definitely a must-see. Dealing with themes that people from either sides of the political spectrum may see as troublesome, I can only go back to the beginning of this review, and underline its power of ponderation. Art (and theatre especifically) holds the potentital to mirror ourselves in a way we may have never looked upon us, and Cock clearly has this in one or two spades.

4/5 stars.

Cock is performed at London’s Ambassadors Theatre from Mondays to Saturdays for a limited run until June 4th. Tickets are available on the following link.

By Guillermo Názara

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